Difficult, but necessary: Aging farmers’ challenge
Knowing when to give up the car keys -- or take them from aging relatives -- is a challenge for Americans in general. Knowing when to give up the tractor keys -- or take them from aging relatives -- can be a particular concern for farm and ranch ...
Knowing when to give up the car keys - or take them from aging relatives - is a challenge for Americans in general.
Knowing when to give up the tractor keys - or take them from aging relatives - can be a particular concern for farm and ranch families.
"It's hard for them (senior farmers and ranchers) to quit doing what they love. So they work later than people in other professions," says Jane Strommen, North Dakota State University and South Dakota State University Extension gerontology specialist.
Gerontology is the study of aging and older adults. It focuses on the physical, mental, and social aspects and implications of aging - all areas of growing importance in modern agriculture. In 2012, the last year for which reliable nationwide statistics are available, there were 257,704 farmers 75 and older, up from 243,472 five years earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Census of Agriculture, which is conducted every five years.
The number of U.S. farmers 65 and older rose to 443,571 in 2012 from 412,182 in 2007, the census found.
The 2017 Census of Agriculture, now underway, is expected to show even more senior farmers.
As Strommen notes, hearing loss, declining vision, lessened reflexes and and other changes are a normal part of the aging process that affects everyone, not only farmers and ranchers.
Whether they're involved in agriculture or not, "It's important for everyone to recognize the changes and to have a positive desire to adapt to the changes," she says. "Adapt and move on."
Older farmers with vision loss, for example, might adapt by improving the lighting in their shop buildings.
"Sometimes it's tricky. These changes can occur very slowly over time, or they can happen very quickly," she adds.
Older ag producers, for their part, should "acknowledge they're at greater risk than other farmers and ranchers. They should try to figure out how they can modify their expectations and their physical activities accordingly," Strommen says.
She encourages family members to respectfully but honestly talk with older relatives who appear to have had physical or mental declines, even though the discussion could be uncomfortable.
"We need to have those conversations. And realize it won't be a one-time conversation," but rather part of the ongoing effort to adapt to life's changes, Strommen says.
To read about a farmer turning 100, click here .
To read about resources, click here .
To read about other older farmers and ranchers in Agweek Country, click here .